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Monday, May 28, 2018

Some Special Birthdays... And A Sad Passing

This week is jam packed with birthdays of people who have brought great pleasure to my life... and seen the passing of another. In this post, I’ll chat about Gardner Dozois, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and the delightful Harlan Ellison.

Firstly, vale Gardner Dozois! Gardner was a giant in the field of science fiction. He was an award-winning writer, but is best known as the editor of many anthologies, many of which of which I have read, with great delight. My own preferences were for the themed anthologies, but a lot of fans say that they were introduced to science fiction through the Year’s Best anthologies, which he founded. He also edited Isaac Asimov’s Magazine for many years. Think of all the short fiction published by him! There just isn’t the time to read it all! Damn! Gone way too soon. Look, I’ll just give you a link to his Wikipedia post, where you can see some of the stuff he has written and edited. Some,  not all - and even that is too much for me to list here. Sleep well, Gardner!

May 26 is a special day. It was the day I came home from school and found out I was an auntie, for the first time. My nephew David is now the father of two beautiful girls, one of whom works in a bookshop and  has just given me a copy of the latest Jay Kristoff novel. But it was a special day. And he shares it with Peter Cushing.

I probably don’t need to tell you much about Peter Cushing. You’ll know about his many Hammer Horror films, several of them with his friend Christopher Lee and some with Vincent Price - both of them May 27 babies! There must have been joint celebrations on set when they were filming on that day. You will certainly have seen him as Grand Moff Tarkin, one of the villains of the Star Wars movie now known as A New Hope(Just Star Wars back then). Did you know he played the tiny role of Osric in the Olivier Hamlet? Osric is the courtier who waves a sword to start the duel between Hamlet and Laertes in the last scene. It is a tiny role, but he brought some comedy to it. he also played Sherlock Holmes, one of many actors to play the role.

And unless you’re almost as old as I am, or a great Dr Who fan, I bet you didn’t know he played as the Doctor, did you? Twice! Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

Christopher Lee was the youngest of these May 26/27 guys, having been born in 1922. He played Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing. He did a lot of villain roles in his career, including one in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and in The Wicker Man, a film I have seen only once and can’t bring myself to see again. He was an amazing singer as well as character actor. In fact, he nearly became an opera singer, but luckily for us he ended up as an actor. I love opera, but only patrons of the opera would have had the chance to see him, in whichever theatre he was performing in. He was Saruman in Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. He would have liked to do Gandalf, because he was a huge Tolkien fan, who had read and reread LOTR since it first came out, but he was too old to cope with the physical stuff - and the Fellowship members actually did have to do a lot of running, climbing, fighting, etc. It wasn’t all stunt artists. So he played the villain again(although in The Hobbit Saruman wasn’t yet a villain) Did you know that on a recording by the Tolkien Ensemble he played the role of that amiable Ent Treebeard? The Ensemble got together to record all of Tolkien’s songs and poems, set to music. On the album Dawn In Rivendell, he sang Treebeard’s songs, with a lot of “Harumph!”s. Oh, and late one night I stumbled across an otherwise-dreadful American series about Robin Hood, which pinched bits from Robin Of Sherwood and wasn’t I surprised to see a twinkle-eyed wizard played by Christopher Lee! Needless to say, he acted rings around the others.

Vincent Price was another character actor, and the oldest of these three, having been born in 1911. He was also the only American, descended from a child born on the Mayflower. Is it even necessary to go through all the horror movies he did? Mind you, in The Fly, a scary movie about a scientist who invents a teleport which leaves him with a fly head and arm, he played the man’s non-villainous brother-in-law. In The Ten Commandments he played Baka, the very nasty Egyptian killed by Moses before his exile. Well, he had to be killed. He was about to whip John Derek and rape Debra Paget, wasn’t he? Oddly, the film I remember most was The Tower Of London, in which he played Richard III. I saw the film with the Richard III Society, sitting with my friends Anne and Helene. While the rest of the group was bristling at the treatment of Richard as a villain, the three of us were rolling around laughing. And at least this Richard did love his wife. George of Clarence, the one who ends up drowned in a barrel of wine, was a nasty piece of work historically, but in The Tower Of London he was shown as an over-the-top character who minced around carrying a lap dog. 

Finally, in this post, there is Harlan Ellison, who has just celebrated his 84th birthday on May 27. I have read some of his short fiction and have his historic anthology Dangerous Visions, and I got to hear him speak at a Sydney SF convention in the 1980s. I remember him telling us in his Guest of Honour speech that we ought to be supporting our own writers, which, of course, we should be. That was before the days of the Internet and well before most of our local small presses took off, to publish science fiction rather than Fat Fantasy Trilogies. He was wanting to do something Australian-themed at the time, but it never happened. In the 1960s, he wrote an episode of the original Star Trek,  “City On The Edge Of Forever”. It was a beautiful episode which won a Hugo Award... and only one line of it was not rewritten... Oh, dear. As a writer, I feel for him! I did read his original script - which also won an award - but have to say I prefer the TV version. For one thing, I can’t imagine Kirk saying to Spock, “I should have left you for the mob!” It was a lovely script, but it wasn’t Star Trek, IMO. 

In later years, he was story editor for the very good Twilight Zone remake and Babylon 5. I remember a couple of the episodes were based on stories by him. On Babylon 5, he not only did the story editing, he played some cameo roles. My favourite was when he played as a computer with a New York Jewish accent - the computer had a personality which drove security chief Garibaldi crazy! So, if he hadn’t become a writer, perhaps he could have had a career in acting? Maybe, but if that had happened, there is a lot of amazing science fiction we would never have had. No - that is one alternative universe I can do without. 


AJ Blythe said...

Gah, I don't know any of these people (although I have seen some of the movies listed).

Sue Bursztynski said...

You don’t even know those three actors? Really? :)

AJ Blythe said...

No *shaking head sadly*. I know I should, and I'd probably recognise them if I saw their picture, but their names don't ring any bells.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I probably should have found pictures that were public domain, but I wanted to post right away and you can’t, for some reason, insert photos into Blogger on an iPad. I do recommend you have a Hammer Horror afternoon, perhaps with your Barbarians, and enjoy. They’re classic movies.

Maria Behar said...

It's really sad when any great name passes.... :(

I have a couple of Dozois anthologies. Yes, he was DEFINITELY "a giant in the field of science fiction"! Well put!

I am not familiar with Peter Cushing, but maybe if I saw a picture of him, I'd recognize him. The name doesn't seem familiar, though.

I remember Christopher Lee as Saruman. He was GREAT in that role! And he's also done the voice of Treebeard? Gee, I really need to get up to date on this stuff! Lol.

Vincent Price was a great actor, but I've never been a horror fan, whether in books or movies. I always thought Price had a very sonorous voice, though. He put it to excellent use in Michael Jackson's "Thriller". And that chilling laugh at the was a masterpiece!

Ah, Harlan Ellison! I read "Dangerous Visions", and had a tough time with one story in particular, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream".... He had a touch of horror in his stories, just as Bradbury did. And he's now 84!! Unbelievable. I LOVED that Star Trek episode. Too bad they rewrote it to such an extent, but if it didn't ring true as Star Trek, then it was the right thing for the writers to do.

CONGRATS on becoming an auntie for the very first time!! Of course, in the coming years you can introduce the little one to SF. Lol.

Oh, and by the way.....I have never seen a Dr. Who episode, with any of the various actors who have portrayed him. Wait, don't beam me to another planet! I need to go to YouTube, I know. These episodes have never been available on American TV, to my knowledge.

Thanks for sharing all the information!! Live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you!! (Does Dr. Who have any famous sayings? If so, let me know!)<3 :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Maria! I bet you saw Star Wars(A New Hope). Peter Cushing was Grand Moff Tarkin, who was horrible to Princess Leia on board the Death Star(and clearly was no fan o& her father Daryl Vader either). Tall, thin man?

In Dangerous Visions, the Poul Anderson story reminded me of how long ago it was written. When I reread it and got to the end, I stared. “THAT’s the ‘dangerous vision’?” Very mild by today’s standards.

Christopher Lee was a friend of Peter Cushing, with whom he made a lot of films.

Not sure how much Dr Who you’ll see on YouTube. Not the old ones, anyway. A lot of the early episodes were destroyed because that’s how they did it in those days. So a BBC producer looked around the world for episodes forgotten in the vaults of TV stations. Sometimes the sound was missing, but fans had recorded the dialogue on tape. Anyway, they have put together whatever they could find, in some cases animated missing bits an$ had the original actors record their voices. They are easily available on DVD and probably on streaming services. The show has been in for well over fifty years and I’d be very surprised if it hasn’t been on in the US. Certainly the current re-vamped series would have been on. Probably better to try that for now.

We’re on to our 13th Doctor now(a woman, still not shown yet)as they regenerate whenever the actor leaves the show, but let’s see... “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” is a famous piece of technobabble. It means nothing.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Darth Vader! How did I end up with Daryl?